More than any of his contemporaries, 'Nineties superstar Garth Brooks broke the barriers that kept country music out of the American pop culture mainstream... Blending slick pop production with hat act twang, Brooks mounted massive stadium shows and topped the charts with his crossover style. However successful he was though, he just ain't my kinda country. I recently had the chance to listen to all of Garth's albums from start to finish... and here are my thoughts...








Garth Brooks Discography

Garth Brooks "Garth Brooks" (Capitol, 1989)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

A fine debut, which starts off with a couple of nice neotrad honkytonk tunes -- "Not Counting You" and "I've Got A Good Thing Going" -- that might make you think, "hey, this guy's not bad!" Sadly, it's the sappy songs that followed, "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "The Dance" -- that topped the charts, and thus went the career of Garth Brooks: a guy who really could sing country music, but decided to "modernize" it instead. As you'll see below, I don't care much for the albums that followed, but I gotta say, this one ain't bad, especially with the goofy rodeo songs and shout-outs to Chris Ledoux... Definitely worth checking out, particularly since the majority ofthese songs never made it onto any of Garth's best-of collections (including a couple of Top Five hits!). For traditionally-inclined country fans, this is Garth's best record.


Garth Brooks "No Fences" (Capitol, 1990)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

Well, I guess this one's okay... To be sure, there's plenty of corny cheese, but a couple of the #1 hits are fairly decent neotrad tunes -- "Two Of A Kind, Workin' On A Full House" and "Friends In Low Places" kinda work for me, at least if you're bound and determined to find something from the era that sounds okay. In fact, this ain't a bad album... I suppose if I had to recommend one of his records, this would be a pretty good choice. The last few tracks are pretty florid, but otherwise, it ain't bad. (Re-released in 2000; racked up an extra hit with the re-released single, "Wild Horses.")


Garth Brooks "Ropin The Wind" (Capitol, 1991)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

Um... uh.. yeesh. I mean, this is really a pretty weak release, ranging from kinda bland to outright terrible... Garth opens with a clunky uptempo number ("Against The Grain"), which is supposed to show us how rowdy he can be, then slips into an awkward soul-pop groove, on "Rodeo," and then through a series of overproduced, overly grandiose cow-pop extravaganzas. It really is the '90s equivalent of '70s countrypolitan, music that's slick and overwrought, just for the sake of staking itself out as not "just" country. But its also really irritating. I can't say as I care much for Brooks as a vocalist, and the production also seems overly controlled and contrived. Doesn't do much for me, though obviously being a mega-superstar and all, there are more than a few of you out there who disagree with me... Sure, maybe Garth was the one to set the template for this particular brand of modern hat-act, sensitive stud, top-country dude, but I still don't think he did it very well. The catchiest song on here, "Papa Loved Mama," is okay, but the violent theme (Mama cheated on Papa, Pops murders her and goes to jail...) outweighs any musical appeal that it would have for me. Otherwise, what a bunch of pretentious, wimpy glop. Gimme a Hank record -- any Hank record -- instead...!!


Garth Brooks "The Chase" (Liberty, 1992)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

Ye gods. What a wimpfest. On the soft songs he sounds like England Dan, or David Gates, or one of thse other '70s soft-pop has-beens, while on "hard" numbers, he simply offers warmed-over pseudo-blues riffs and efficiently neutered Southern rock. This is so horrible! What is up with that? Why was Brooks so popular??? Count me in the "I just don't get it," crabby old-timer, traditionalist country camp. I don't get it. The only thing that's satisfying thing about this album is that his hammy remakes of Patsy Cline's classic hit, "Walking After Midnight," and Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken" both tanked on the charts. (Unfortunately, Brooks probably saw those song as his nod towards tradition and rootsiness, and their failure doubtless redoubled his commitment to a pop-based formula, and was rewarded by the three other songs that landed in the Top Three...) Includes an intriguingly liberal religious number ("We Shall Be Free"), and the weird, moody topical tune, "Face To Face," which I think is about a woman who confronts a man who raped her... It's a noble sentiment, I guess, but also a little icky, and perhaps patronizing. Anyway, this disc is so heinous I honestly can't think of a single song on it that I'd want to play on the air... Just not my cup of tea, I guess. This is the kind of yucky contemporary Nashville pop that non-country music fans made fun of at the time... and you know what? They were right.


Garth Brooks "Beyond The Season" (Capitol, 1992)
A holiday album... Ho, ho, ho!! (See my Country Christmas section.)


Garth Brooks "In Pieces" (Liberty, 1993)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

Oh, my gawd. What a travesty. The album's opener, "Standing Outside The Fire," and the followup tune, an odd tune about a guy who has to get into a fistfight with his father -- for whatever deep psychological reason -- both have jittery pop arrangements that just plain embarrassingly bad... what... is... up... with... that? The prefab Bubba anthem that follows, "American Honky-Tonk Bar Association," seems like a breath of fresh air by comparison (it's alright, but doesn't really hold up...) and then he goes all sappidelic for a tune or two, tries on a Lyle Lovett gospel-blues persona on "Kickin' And Screamin'," attempts an uptempo tongue-twister on "Ain't Going Down..." and slaps on some unconvincing hoedown action on "Callin' Baton Rouge" (on which he sounds uncannily like John Denver...) Then there are a few wildly over-the-top pretentious pop-glop trainwrecks (including one where he rhymes "steamy windows" with "innuendoes.." Puh-leeeze!! Spare me!) I'm not trying to be all snotty or superior-sounding, but I honestly feel sorry for people who think of this as great country music.... it's just so... lame! And there's so much stuff that's so much better...!


Garth Brooks "Fresh Horses" (Capitol, 1996)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

Garth does a semi-reprise of Jackson Browne's "The Load Out" on this album's opener, "The Old Stuff," which really isn't so bad of a song, except that the tinny sound mix kind of muffles his vocals... Overall, this is a pretty vigorous record... He slides into some drippy arrangements, some tightly controlled "rowdiness," but there's a tune or two here that don't completely blow... "Cowboys And Angels" has an intriguing religious theme (Garth always seems to have one or two crypto-gospel tunes per album...), and "The Beaches Of Cheyenne" sounds country, even if the lyrics are kinda lame. At least there's some stuff on here I could stand listening to, if need be. Mostly these are pop tunes masquerading as cowboy music; nothing new, nothing all that surprising, but a couple of okay tracks.


Garth Brooks "Sevens" (Capitol, 1997)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

Just in terms of sheer volume of chart action, this is a pretty remarkable album: of the fourteen songs on here, all but two hit the Top 100 in some form or another. Most of the remaining dozen only entered in the back half of the Billboard chart, but still, releasing so many songs as singles was audacious on the part of Brooks and his label... There are some good songs on here, as well as some flimsy pop fluff (to its credit, the Country radio establishment seems to have bailed on the more iffy material...) but no one can say they didn't try to milk this disc for all it was worth... and more. A duet with Trisha Yearwood, "In Another's Eyes," was a big hit, the first of several they recorded over the years. Other than the anthemic honkytonk barroom ballad, "Longneck Bottle," this ain't really my kinda country, but it's also not the worst work he's ever done.


Garth Brooks "Double Live" (Capitol, 1998)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

As one of country music's biggest-selling, hardest touring, most bankable celebrity properties, Garth was bound to put out a concert album sooner or later. Lo and behold, witness this 2-CD set of all his biggest hits and a few new tunes, sung in a relatively stripped-down atmosphere to a gigantic, worshipful audience in New York City's ever-welcoming Central Park. One can only imagine the horror with which the City's inhabitants -- particularly those with apartments overlooking the Park -- greeted this assembly. The overall vibe is as overblown and flatulent as you might imagine, but it's nice to hear Brooks connect with his fans, and the seeming down-to-earth ease and humility with which he meets their adulation... I guess he's an okay kinda fellow, even if his music doesnŐt move me a-tall...


Garth Brooks "The Life Of Chris Gaines" (Capitol, 1999)
(Produced by Don Was)

This album is a semi-hoax, with country-pop idol Brooks posing as alter-ego "Chris Gaines," a fictional pop superstar whose career "retrospective" is his only release. It's terrible. Brooks sings in one of those cloying near-falsettos, in a John Meyer-ish saccharine haze, and the kind of music he's trying to show his unexpected mastery of is simply awful in the first place. Blechh. The joke isn't funny; the music isn't interesting... This is a very, very bad album.


Garth Brooks "The Magic Of Christmas" (Capitol, 1999)
(See my Country Christmas section.)


Garth Brooks "No Fences" (Capitol, 2000)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds... duh!)

A reissue of his 1990 debut album. They broke one of the old songs off as a "new" single... and it landed in the Top Ten(!) Go figure.


Garth Brooks "Scarecrow" (Capitol, 2001)
(Produced by Allen Reynolds)

This disc was billed as Garth's farewell, parting shot, as he retired from showbiz. Well, so far, so good. No, but seriously -- this disc is packed with patented Brooks-style, goopy pop ballads, but it's also got "Beer Run," a rompin' stompin' duet with the venerable George Jones, which brought ole' George back into the Top 20 for the first time in many a moon. So, hooray for Garth Brooks, for that at least. Songwriter Shawn Camp's "Big Money" is a cute tune, too, and while the Trisha Yearwood duet of Delbert McClinton's "Squeeze Me In" pales in comparison to Delbert's version, I still like the thought that the royalties probably helped McClinton out quite a bit... The rest of this album is pretty thin-sounding, if you ask me... But nobody is, and that's probably just as well. As far as his fans are concerned, I'm sure this disc was a fine swan song... Besides... he'll be back. Count on it.... they always come back.




Best-Ofs

Garth Brooks "The Hits" (Capitol, 1994)
This greatest hits package is mysteriously hard to find (inexplicably, it's a limited edition release... well, whatever...), but it's a pretty strong representation of Brooks's work up through the early 1990s. He was a pretty canny pop stylist, and though he hardly ever goes hard country, as an heir to, say, the Eagles, he ain't bad. Some of the sappier power ballad stuff is a drag... but it's still better than similar material by other Nashvillers, and I can't say I'm too fond of his politics (redneck chic... yawn.) Still, you could do much worse!






Hick Music Index



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